Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why I always keep all electronics in my carry on bag

As a screener at Newark Liberty International Airport, Pythias Brown was supposed to keep deadly objects off airplanes. But for the past year, authorities allege, Brown has been swiping electronic equipment from luggage of the passengers he was supposed to protect. ...

Among the items seized were 66 cameras, 31 laptop computers, 20 cell phones, 17 sets of electronic games, 13 pieces of jewelry, 12 GPS devices, 11 MP3 players, eight camera lenses, six video cameras and two DVD players, the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, Brown confessed that he began stealing two to three items per week from the airport beginning in September 2007. He told authorities he put most of the stolen items up for sale on eBay, it said.
Full article: Screener accused of stealing electronics from luggage

If you have any valuable electronics, I'd suggest doing everything you can to carry them on. I always keep my cell phone, camera, iPod and GPS with me when I travel. Plus, your are more likely to want to use that stuff anyway.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Videos from Italy and Normandy

I'm still trying to get time to finish blogging about the rest of the our trip but in the mean time, I finally got all the videos from our trip uploaded. We took a lot more videos this year than last year in Germany/Austria/Switzerland. This play list is organized chronologically.

Also, near the end there are a bunch of videos of bands playing as part of the FĂȘte de la Musique (World Music Day) in Bayeaux. Some are ok. Some are pretty bad. If you get sick of those, there are still a few videos from the Eiffel Tower after them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Learning to cook in Tuscany - Day 8

Our 8th day had an all day cooking class and tour planned. We were picked up just outside of Florence (as it costs a lot of money to drive in the city center, it is almost pedestrian only) and were taken off to the hills of Tuscany along with a couple from Toronto and a family from Georgia (the parents were celebrating their 30th anniversary and their daughter was a sr in college studying in Florence for the summer) so we had a nice small group.

We drove about 45 minutes outside of the city to a little winery. I forget the name but it is on pictures somewhere and Teresa wrote it down. They don't make enough to ship anything to the US though. They also make olive oil as do most winerys as our guide (originally from Arizona) told us. The tour was interesting but I wish I knew more about wine and wine making before hand so I could have asked some better questions. The specialty in the area we were in is Chianti.

After the tour we had a little wine sampling. It was all different reds and I wasn't thrilled with them but they did get better as we went a long (they also got more expensive). The last one though was a desert wine that we saw where they keep it in barrels for 5+ years. It was really sweet and really good. It was also €30 for a .25 liter bottle! We decided not to get any wine from them but we did pick up some olive oil. Look for a dinner party with pasta and oil coming to a home near you soon (family only, sorry any other readers).

After the sampling, we drove through the hills with tons of olive and grape groves. Looking at the GPS they took us the long route specifically for that. I didn't retain all the details of the different varieties of grapes and things but it was still interesting.

Next we arrived at the house of the owner of the tour group where we learned how to make pasta. They lived in an old moestary I think. It was huge and they had a lookout tower too. (It was the smoking balcony.) We didn't cook as much as I wanted too but we did learn how to make pasta. It turns out it is really simple. Pasta is just eggs and a specific type of flour. You mix it up, roll it out, flatten it and then cut it up. I imgine this would be a lot harder without a machine but I was told you can use a rolling pin or even a wine bottle if desperate.

With our dough, we first made spinach ravioli and then we made some fettucini. After all our hard work, the owner, who had been cooking the whole time, served us a plate with beans, bread with melted cheese and honey and a potator quiche type thing. They were all excellent. Next course was the spinach ravioli we made. They were also excellent. The third plate was a pasta from the fettuchini noodles we made. It was a little spicy but got old after a bit (as pasta has started to do most places in Italy for us so far). I still cleaned my plate! For dester we had fresh peaches in a desert wine sauce with crumbled cookies (giner maybe?) sprinkled over top. Also excellent. And that was our cooking class... (Oh yeah, our tour was through Accidental Tourist.)

And now for a video Teresa made of me rolling out pasta...

We got back from our tour a little earlier than planned so we met up with Laura again. We hiked up to Piazzale Michelangiolo for great views of Florence. I talked them into staying until sunset and it was well worth it.

Florence, Italy - Day 7

Today was our first full day in Florence. Our first sight of the day was the Uffizi gallery. To get in you have to wait a long time or have reservations. Teresa planned ahead. We got to the ticket office about 30 inutes early though so we walked around the corner to see Ponte Vecchio again, in the daylight this time.

Visiting the Uffizi (which means "office" in Itallian as it was the office space for the ruling Medici family) was great thanks to following Rick Steve's audio tour. Without a tour it would have just been a lot of paintings and a few sculptures, some of which I would have thought "Haven't I seen that somewhere before?" Unfortunately they don't let you take pictures there or I would have a ton. The gallery pretty much takes you from early Renissance up through the Renissance with a select number of works. The most famous one I recognized was The Birth of Venus.

After the gallery we went to the Duomo Museum which has all the original statues and old works that have been removed over the years (the ones that still survive at least). This is another of those musums that would have been really boring but we rented the audioguide. It was nice because I had headphones and a splitter since we were doing other audiotours with our iPod so we just plugged into the headphone jack and only had to get one guide. It also helped us to go at the same pace. I think others were jealous as they were checking out our setup.

After the museum we climbed the Duomo bell tower. It is, I think, 414 steps. Teresa even climbed with me. She has been pretty adventurous. The view was nice and there was no wait. It was overcast though so we didn't get the best views. It was still worth it. It was also cool looking at the Duomo after the museum because you could place all original statues you see with their copies that are now part of the actual building.

Next we did a Florence walk where we learned a little about the city and its Renissance roots. It was short though and only took us from the Duomo down to the Ponte Vecchio.

Pisa and Florence, Italy - Day 6

We debated if we should go to Pisa or spend another day in Siena for a while but we decided in the end that we had gotten a good taste for Siena (I really like it, it is very chill and reminded me of Rothenburg, Germany - Teresa not so much) and had seen what we had to. So instead of day 2 in Siena we took a side trip to Pisa (you know, the leaning tower).

Getting to Pisa was easy once you get to the train station. We took a local bus but didn't relize we had to already have tickets purchased so we freaked out when the bus stopped and the ticket checkers hopped on. Of course this was the first time we have ever dealt with ticket checkers and one of the few times we have not had a ticket. Fortunately they just let us discreatly get off the bus and be on our way instead of laying the large (I think ~€70) fine! Since I had the GPS I knew we were only 6/10 of a mile from the train station so we just walked.

From Siena you go to Empoli, switch trains and then head to Pisa. Of course our delay was only 10 minutes but the train from Empoli to Pisa ended up sitting in the station for almost an hour. The Itallians need to learn from the Germans how to run a train system. This was the 3rd time we have had a train delay!

Once we got to Pisa we took the bus to the Field of Miracles where the leaning tower is. It is a lot shorter and fatter than I though it was but still very impressive. It was also a very impressive €15 each to climb witha very strict time limit! You buy your ticket for a certain time (our time was an hour later) and then up you go. Teresa went too and she is not big on the climbing. The leaning does freak you out a little at the top. Just hold on to the rails!

After lots of silly pictures leaning on and holding up the tower, we headed for a geocache on the way to the train station and walked the rest of the way back. One more note about the area though. There area million people selling junk in Pisa but Teresa did manage to find a gem. She got a bracelet that a guy makes out of stainless steel silverware. Hers is an apitizer fork. It is really neat and she loves it.

After Pisa we had a direct train to Florence. It was only about an hour. We checked into our hotel, walked around Florence some, saw Ponte Vecchio, saw the Duomo, had more gelato, saw some people we saw on our same flight from JFK to Rome and then were off to bed. Teresa and I started to like Florence the best (so far) immediately.

Siena, Italy - Day 5

Day 5 was in Siena. We went to Siena mostly because Teresa's sister Laura is studying there this summer. We only spent about a day there total but it was still worth the visit just to see Il Campo!

The funniest thing happened to me on the bus ride from Rome to Siena though. Many know I mumble from time to time but today it must have been particulalry bad. I asked an American tourist waiting for the same bus it he was waiting for the bus to Siena (to be sure we were at the right place). His answer? "English" This bus ride also included an Itallian girl next to us watching movies on her Vista laptop, a girl in front of us on her MacBook writing a paper and using bluetooh + her cell phone to browse the Internet and one of the American women on the bus reading from a Kindle. Cool.

Anyway, getting to Siena was about a 2 hour bus ride. We wanted to take the 8:30 bus but with a broken alarm clock we woke up at 8:30 instead. The next bus was at 10:30 and we made that one. We just had to hop on the North-South metro line for €1 each and ride it a few stops to the other train station in Rome, Tiburtina. The bus station was around the corner.

Once we got to Siena, a medieval hilltop town between Rome and Florence, we walked to our B&B. The owner was really nice and very helpful. It made us regret getting an apartment in Rome that had no one there to recommend things. After getting settled we walked a few blocks to check out Il Campo and wait for Laura to get out of class. While waiting, I climbed to the top of the tower (If there is something to climb, I want to do it) and we had yet more gelato.

Once Laura arrived, we headed off to the dumo there. It was pretty neat. There were marble heads of all the Popes lining the tops of the walls. There was also a library room that had a ton of books with old music written in them. This was before the modern way of writing music (which Laura said was ~1700s if I remember correctly). It was similar but not the same. It was all blocks. Laura said she had a class where they had to translate that to the modern way. Interesting!

After the church, we had dinner with Laura on Il Campo. It was pretty expensive but it had a great view.

The rest of the day we just walked around and rested. We also found out that we only had $300 left in our checking account thanks to a goof. Fortunately that has since been corrected.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pompeii via Naples - Day 4

After 3 days in Rome, we decided that we had seen all the big sites and enough of the smaller sites that we wanted to see something else. We decided to head down to the old city of Pompeii via Naples.

The morning got off to an interesting start when I got out of bed and could not support my own weight because my feet hurt so bad! Putting on shoes helped and an ibuprofen eventually kicked in but I limped all the way to the metro station.

Getting to Naples was about an hour and a half train ride from Rome. After that we got on a commuter train for 30 minutes to Pompeii (called the Circumvesuviana). We sat across from a German guy who was quite the chatterbox. He apparently traveled a lot (to Las Vegas 10 times). I was glad he was sitting across from us though as I got to worry less about pick pockets. This train has a reputation for being one of the worst.

Pompeii was neat. I was there before on my trip to Italy in ~1996 but I didn't really remember much. In retrospect, we should have gotten a guide or at least audio guide. We followed the Rick Steves book for a while and then just wandered around. We walked all the way back to the stadium that I did remember from my trip before except you can't walk up into the seating area anymore. Bummer! We took a group picture up there last time! One sad thing in Pompeii was there were a good number of stray dogs. Poor things.

After touring the runis for about 2 hours, we had lunch right across the street. It was really good but after the bill was €20, not €17 as it should be. I went to go get the menu to check and the waitress came by, pointed to the part about 15% gratuity added and yanked the menu from me. Good to know but could she have done it in a more rude way? I didn't mind the gratuity but I do mind getting ripped off. (It was more than 15% too, the rounded up!)

We got back to Naples and decided we really didn't have any desire to explore the city. We were tired and it really didn't look very exciting. Plus, it is the center of the Itallian mafia and was currently in a "trash pickup"crisis! We got on the next train and after sitting in the terminal for an hour after our departure time, we were off. (I've heard that Italy's train system is not the most punctual, we found out on only our second ride.)

We had dinner at the train station in Rome. One thing of note here. In Italy, olive oil is like ketsup in the US. Say you go into McD's in the US, you have a ketsup pump and can eat all you want right? Well in Italy, at least at this place, you have a bunch liter bottles of olive oil to put on salads or whatever. That stuff is expensive (in the US) too! We also sampled some more gelato on the way home. I had pistachio and Teresa has raspberry. Both were excellent.